Gavia Libraria

Mid-career musings

A conversation has begun about mid-career options and directions. Posts in the conversation include (but are not limited to):

All of these are thoughtful posts well worth the reading time; the last poses questions worth the trouble to think about.

The Loon senses something of a hedgehog vs. fox distinction here. Talk of “focus,” talk of [a singular] “passion,” talk of “concentrating one’s efforts”—that is hedgehog talk, finding the hedgehog’s “one big thing.”

The Loon’s fox-nature couldn’t find—or if she found it, focus on—just one big thing if her life depended on it. (Well, in fairness, this is not entirely true; when circumstances have forced the Loon to focus in, she has usually managed to do so, if unhappily.) This one-big-thing avoidance vitiates her interest in leadership positions; so does her generally aloof and task-oriented demeanor, never mind her signally imperfect temper and strong allergy to being silenced. So much for organizational leadership as a career track. The Loon will pass, thanks all the same.

What the Loon lives on instead is ambition for change. This ambition invariably lives on several levels. On a personal level, if the Loon isn’t learning as well as applying what she learns, she is a thwarted and unhappy loon indeed. On a workplace level, the Loon generally has two or three irons in the fire at any given time—new courses, organizational change initiatives, whatever—not uncommonly in collaboration with her not-a-boss or one or more colleagues. On a larger level, the Loon is still (and will probably always be) rather quixotesque in her inclinations: pick a giant intractable problem (or two, or three; the Loon has approximately three on her plate at present) and charge in with a mighty Loonish yodel.

If this all sounds rather overwhelming, well, yes—that is possibly the main hazard of fox-nature. The Loon has had to discipline herself not to overcommit her time and energy, as one might expect. She finds, however, that having multiple windmills to charge at keeps her sense of self-efficacy strong: when one windmill has tossed her cloaca-over-teakettle (as windmills do), another is likely about to topple. When the Loon has been forcibly limited to one windmill (as with IR management), failure to topple it has felt devastating; when there are more to charge at, it merely feels irksome.

Perhaps oddly, multiple windmills also provide an underlying continuity that keeps the Loon from falling into the ruminative funks that were such a ubiquitous element of her librarian career. With several initiatives going at any given time, the natural end of one does not leave total vacuum in its place; it simply leaves space for other ongoing business to expand into.

One possibly-important caveat: perfectionism is incompatible with fox-nature, at least as the Loon experiences fox-nature. With all the plates she keeps spinning, the Loon cannot possibly spin them all perfectly. Sometimes the windmill doesn’t go down because the Loon’s spear technique is not all it could be. The only way the Loon has found to manage that is to forgive herself when it happens and where possible work out how to do better next time. (Hardly coincidentally, this is also the only way to keep on teaching, the Loon thinks. Teaching is not an endeavor susceptible to perfection.) She has found, on the whole, that this attitude toward her work both reduces unnecessary guilt and frees her to work more effectively toward her aims, such that guilt crops up less.

The Loon does not and would never claim that her own flavor of fox-nature is a universal balm for everyone’s midlife career ennui. All she can say is that it keeps her learning, growing, enthusiastic about her workplace and her pursuits both within and beyond it, and grateful she can keep doing what she does.